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Wissa Wassef
Arts Center

"One cannot separate beauty from utility, the form from the material, the work from its function, man from his creative art. A child is artistically gifted provided he is not inhibited by his circumstances of life and education, with the help of a sensitive teacher, the child's innate creative energies could be released."

Ramses Wissa Wassef, an Egyptian architect, was persuaded of the fundamental importance of creativity as a force to shape the society in which we live. Prompted by this conviction he started an educational and artistic experiment that began in 1941 and is continuing till now, twenty six years after his death. The weavings exhibited in the Wissa Wassef Art Center are an example of the results of this experiment.

He worked first with the children in the district of Old Cairo and when he proved the soundness of his theory he came in 1953 to the village of Harrania, a small village near Cairo where people lived on agriculture, with very little contact with the outside world. To work with the children of Harrania he bought some land and used to visit it every week with his wife Sophie, who's an artist herself, to supervise the building of a small room topped with a dome and to play and talk with the village children in order to know and understand them better.

By the time the room was finished he had built a good relationship with the children and he proposed to teach them a trade. He then brought twelve simple looms and some woolen threads, which he coloured with natural dyes and taught nine girls and three boys the rudiments of weaving without giving them any design.



They were then encouraged to express themselves directly with the threads. Each tapestry was an innovation and they were paid for it as an encouragement. In the garden of the atelier they planted the dyes like reseda, madder, nut trees etc. and slowly, as the children grew older and their work matured, the couple started discussing the composition and the colours to give them new ideas.

After Ramses Wissa Wassef's death in 1974 the center was divided into three groups:

1. The first generation weavers continued with Sophie Wissa Wassef who was dealing with them from the beginning.

2. Suzanne Wissa Wassef started in 1973 with her own group of young weavers. These were separated from the older ones so as not to be influenced by their achievements. She also continued with the Ceramics.

3. I, Yoanna Wissa Wassef, took over the Batik group and started a new group of Cotton weavers in 1974.

I would like to stress a few important points in Ramses Wissa Wassef's experiment, which will explain his ideas more clearly. Ramses Wissa Wassef chose weaving for several reasons, the main one being that it is a very old Egyptian craft that is slow in progress, enabling the child to build up his/her idea. At the same time it is not too complicated to discourage him. The technique itself is full of possibilities that can be explored without restrictions. When a tapestry is completed the child feels a sense of having achieved something worthwhile.

What applies to weaving can be applied to any art or craft when the child is given a chance to express himself through his hands and mind. This is what we proved when we introduced Ceramics and Batik.

Each of us directs our school according to our own ideas and views. Our personality reflects on the work of our weavers, but we are united by our respect of the main philosophy that founded the school. Our aim is not only to produce genuine art and revive Egyptian crafts, but also to help young people build a better and more fulfilling life for themselves and those around them. By developing their creative abilities.
Yoanna Wissa Wassef


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